Their marriage may not have been blessed by their parents in the beginning, but the years that followed proved John and Dolly (Vallejo) Cisneros’ love was genuine. Today marks another year of marriage as the couple celebrate their 60th wedding anniversary with family.
They remember their wedding day like it was yesterday.
“She was wearing a light pink dress,” he said. “It had lots and lots of lace,” Dolly added.
He recalls the attraction that prompted the young couple to elope in 1961.
She was only 15, he was 19 and the legal marrying age in 1961 was 21.
Cisneros attended nursing school at Mission Municipal Hospital in Mission. A few days prior to sitting for the state board exam, he and his classmates went skating and he broke his ankle. His sister and brother-in-law insisted he live with them in El Campo while recuperating.
Once he was well, he took a job at Nightingale Hospital in El Campo until he was fired. Without a job, he decided to hitch-hike back to his hometown of Pharr. Dolly’s cousin saw him on the side of the road, and offered him a job at the El Campo Restaurant owned by Dolly’s parents, Joe and Vivian Vallejo. Dolly was a cashier there.
While there was no initial attraction between the two, Cisneros still pursued her mainly because her parents despised him. Their paths crossed on numerous occasions and on one occasion he decided to kiss her.
“You know, I am going to kiss this girl and see how she’ll respond. I grabbed her and kissed her ... still nothing,” he said.
Then after her father fired him, he decided to return to his hometown again, but not alone.
“I called her up ... ‘Dolly I’m going back to the Valley, you want to go with me?’ ‘Give me 30-45 minutes and I’ll be ready,’ she had told him.
“I borrowed a car and she packed her suitcase,” he said.
By the time they had driven to Refugio, he began having second thoughts.
“What am I am thinking? ... What am I going to do with her?” he said.
They arrived at the home of his mother, Eleanor Cisneros, and she immediately instructed him to take Dolly back home, but with the accompaniment of his sister. Once back in El Campo, John explains to her parents that he had not taken advantage of their daughter.
“You see, he (Vallejo) was a prominent man,” Cisneros said. “He told us ‘Ya’ll have to get married.’”
Because they were not of legal age to marry, his mother had to travel from the Valley to sign on his behalf. After signing and giving the two permission to marry, Mr. Vallejo had one stipulation.
“I want ya’ll to leave El Campo as soon as possible,” John recalls Vallejo saying.
They were married in Judge Christensen’s home and had a small reception at the El Campo Restaurant.
“Then we were on the bus to San Antonio ... we didn’t know anyone,” Cisneros said. “We had $36 between us. We had to get an apartment and the rent was $40 ... this included paid utilities and it was furnished.”
Because he was a nurse, he had secured a job quickly at the Santa Rosa Medical Center in San Antonio and was able to make the rent.
“I was assigned to the intensive care unit right away ... I got free meals, so I would eat half of that and bring the other half to Dolly,” he said.
A year later, Dolly’s parents paid them a visit and invited them to return to El Campo where Mr. Vallejo secured a job for John at the May Aluminum plant.
The couple raised five children in El Campo. Then Cisneros took a job at Dupont in Deer Park until his retirement when they moved back to El Campo.
Mr. Vallejo eventually forgave Cisneros for eloping with his daughter.
“It took 30 years to get in my father-in-law’s good graces,” Cisneros said. “We made our peace.”
The couple’s children include John Patrick Cisneros, Anthony Cisneros, Lisa Escalona, Margaret Cisneros and Dominic Cisneros. They also have eight grandchildren and one great-grandchild.
“When I took Dolly with me, I knew it was forever,” he said.
“He’s a keeper ... my only love,” she said.